Studio Trigger’s labor of love, Little Witch Academia, is finally getting a TV series, and I couldn’t be more excited.
The story follows the adventures of three witches-in-training at the Luna Nova Magical Academy, where they try their best to stay out of trouble but cannot help their mischievous curiosity getting them into some desperate predicaments.
Lotte is the reserved, studious one; Sucy is the strange, disturbed one; and Akko is the spunky troublemaker. The setup revolves around Akko’s frustration that she does not come from a lineage of witchcraft–unlike the rest of her friends–and so does not have a natural gift for magic, be that witchcraft or flying on a broomstick. Instead, she idolizes Shiny Chariot, an impossibly glamorous entertainer that inspired her interest in magic, while the rest of the school mocks her for her fanaticism in such childish things.
But the project could just as well have been titled Young Animator Academia. Here is why.
The arrival of a television series is a monumental achievement for the project, which started off in an interesting way back in 2013, as a one-off short pilot. The short featured the characters running around in beautifully choreographed action scenes, joking with each other in outrageously expressive scenes of overacting. Overall, every movement had a particular energy that made it stand out among other animated works. Yet clearly, they were extensions of the lineage of the style showcased in Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt, as Trigger was comprised in large part of former Gainax members.
The quality of animation that the newly formed Trigger was commanding for the original 23-minute short was such that, while the number of drawings for such a runtime in a typical Japanese production would average from 2,000 to 3,000, Little Witch Academia was made up of an astronomical 17,000. Director Yoh Yoshinori, in a talk event at the time, joked that this was possible because it was paid for with tax money.
This is because Little Witch Academia began life as a part of the 2013 “Anime Mirai” project funded by the Japanese Government’s Agency of Cultural Affairs, in which four studios (In 2013, apart from Trigger, they were Gonzo, Madhouse, and Zexcs) were each given a stipend to fund an animated short for the purpose of training the next generation of animators. In a sense, it was a special on-the-job training project specifically for young artists.
And here is Trigger’s original trailer for the Little Witch Academia short:
The short proved popular enough to spawn a proposal for a follow-up work almost immediately after, which eventually became Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade. This new work would be longer in runtime and partially funded through Kickstarter.
In fact, due to enormous worldwide support, it met its target of USD $150,000 in only six hours. The final amount pledged was USD $625,518, not only allowing it to meet stretch goals but also making visible the demand within the potential global market for dynamic animation and design. This is something that surely pushed the viability of a full television series in the minds of sponsors and broadcasters who would have otherwise been wary of the potential risk for such an all-original project (i.e., not based on a manga or game). In fact, in an interview inside the brochure for Anime Mirai 2013, director Yoshinari confirms that he originally applied for the Anime Mirai project because it was very difficult to get plans for original anime such as Little Witch greenlit for television. Yoshinari says that it is a learning experience for him as well, as he felt a definite generation gap between himself and the young animators that he was training. He mentions that his own generation grew up with Urusei Yatsura and the like, productions in which the animators were working as they pleased, whereas young people now enter a work environment with a very rigid and diligent attitude. He tells them that they should loosen up more.
With the new TV series right around the corner, it will be fascinating to watch how a testbed for young craftsmen expanded into a full-blown franchise. I expect it will be enlightening to look back once it is over, having witnessed the evolution of a new framework for animation production, from government-sponsored training program to global crowdfunded experiment and, finally, a television series. And this will no doubt show in the visuals, too. One can already observe the progression between the first short and the second work.
Little Witch Academia premieres on January 8, 2017 and will be streaming on Netflix.